Piaras Béaslaí, author, playwright, biographer and translator, who is a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), fights in the Easter Rising and serves as a member of Dáil Éireann, dies on June 22, 1965.
Béaslaí is born Percy Frederick Beazley in Liverpool, England on February 15, 1881 to Irish Catholic parents, Patrick Langford Beazley, originally from Killarney, County Kerry, and Nannie Hickey, from Newcastle West, County Limerick. During his summer holidays in his younger years, he spends time in Ireland (near Kenmare, County Kerry) with his paternal uncle, Father James Beazley, where he begins to learn the Irish language. He is educated at St. Francis Xavier’s College in Liverpool, where he develops his keen interest in Irish. By the time he is aged 17 his Irish proficiency is exceptional.
After finishing his education at St. Francis Xavier’s, Béaslaí is encouraged to begin Irish poetry by Tadhg Ó Donnchadha. He follows his father’s footsteps into journalism, initially working for the local Wallasey News. In 1906 he moves to Dublin, and within a year becomes a freelance writer for the Irish Peasant, Irish Independent, Freeman’s Journal and Express. He is offered a permanent position with Independent Newspapers, as assistant leader writer and special reporter for the Dublin Evening Telegraph. He writes regularly for the Freeman’s Journal, including a daily half-column in Irish.
After his early introduction to Irish poetry Béaslaí becomes involved in staging Irish-language amateur drama at the Oireachtas annual music festival. He begins to write both original works and adaptations from foreign languages. One of these works, Eachtra Pheadair Schlemiel (1909), is translated from German into Irish.
Later Béaslaí continues to write poetry, such as the collection “Bealtaine 1916” agus Dánta Eile (1920), and short stories such as “Earc agus Aine agus Scéalta Eile.” Between 1913 and 1939 he writes many plays, including Cliuche Cartaí (1920), An Sgaothaire agus Cúig Drámaí Eile (1929), An Danar (1929) and An Bhean Chródha (1931). He writes two books about his comrade Michael Collins: Michael Collins and the Making of a New Ireland (2 volumes, 1926) and Michael Collins: Soldier and Statesman (1937).
Béaslaí’s works revolve around the Irish language movement and the Irish Republican Army (IRA), focusing on the independence struggle of Ireland. He writes about these topics in newspapers such as the Standard and The Kerryman. His most notable work in newspapers during his later life includes his contribution to the Irish Independent, which publishes a section called ‘A Veteran Remembers’ five days a week from May 16 to June 1957, as well as a weekly section called ‘Moods and Memories’ on Wednesdays from May 24, 1961 to June 16, 1965.
One of the awards Béaslaí gains during his career is on August 14, 1928, a gold medal at the Tailteann Literary Awards. While in Dublin, he joins the Keating Branch of the Gaelic League, and after he moves to Ireland he begins using the Irish form of his name, Piaras Béaslaí, rather than Percy Beazley.
Béaslaí is a founding member of the Irish Volunteers in 1913. In January 1916 he serves as a courier for political activist and revolutionary leader Seán Mac Diarmada. By the time of the Easter Rising that year, he is deputy commanding officer of the 1st Dublin Battalion. In an audio recording to which he contributes in 1958, he details his experience in the Rising, describing the rebels assembling before noon in Blackhall Street at battalion headquarters. After midday they march out to the Four Courts, erecting barricades as they do so. The Four Courts is his main station.
In the audio, Béaslaí recalls a green flag with a gold harp in the centre. This is the non-Sinn Féin flag at the time. He is in direct charge of the Four Courts area, and at one point during the fight he orders a complete blackout. He recalls, “things were going badly for the English soldiers” and describes the whole event as “a weird experience.” He remembers the streets being lit up with fires in the darkness as if it were bright as day. He speaks of the intensity of the firing line and then how it suddenly ceases on the Friday. He remembers falling asleep and when he awakens being presented with Patrick Pearse‘s order to surrender. The rebels are brought to Richmond Barracks. He then spends fifteen months in English prisons.
Béaslaí serves three years of penal servitude divided between a stringent HM Prison Portland and a more lenient HM Prison Lewes. He is then imprisoned two times within four months during 1919, both terms ending in celebrated escapes. After his final prison release, Michael Collins approaches him about editing An tOglach, the Irish Volunteer newspaper. This sees communication between GHQ and local volunteers drastically improve.
Later, Béaslaí becomes director of publicity for the Irish Republican Army, and at the 1918 Irish general election he is elected to the First Dáil as Sinn Féin MP for East Kerry. Sinn Féin MPs elected in the Westminster elections of 1918 refuse to recognise the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and instead assemble the following January at the Mansion House in Dublin as a revolutionary parliament, Dáil Éireann. Béaslaí is noted for his translation of the democratic programme of the First Dáil, which he reads aloud at the inaugural sitting.
Béaslaí is a member of the Sinn Féin party for five years. Between 1919 and 1921 he represents the East Kerry constituency in the First Dáil. Then, at the 1921 Irish elections, he is returned unopposed to the Second Dáil as a Sinn Féin Teachta Dála (TD) for Kerry–Limerick West. Following the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he is re-elected there unopposed at the 1922 Irish general election as a pro-Treaty Sinn Féin candidate, and is thus a member of the Third Dáil, which is Pro-Treaty at this stage. In 1922 he goes to the United States to explain the Treaty to Sinn Féin’s Irish American supporters. He does not contest the 1923 Irish general election.
Béaslaí and Con Collins share the distinction of having been elected in three Irish general elections unopposed by any other candidates.
During Béaslaí’s time in London, he gives a lot of his time to the Gaelic League. In the Keating branch of the league, in Ireland, he develops an interest in the IRB. Cathal Brugha, a branch member, asks him to join the IRB. The Keating branch is where Béaslaí meets Michael Collins, eventually introducing Collins to his cousin and fellow branch member, Elizabeth Mernin. He is also instrumental in establishing An Fáinne, an Irish-speaking league whose members vow to speak solely Irish among themselves and wear a membership badge of a circle. This coincides with his involvement in the IRB. His love of the Irish language gives him an opportunity to delve into his other hobbies. He writes for Banba, an Irish journal published by the Gaelic League. He is able to express his love for theatre, in the Gaelic League, forming a group of men called “Na hAisteoirí.”
Béaslaí dies, unmarried, at the age of 84 on June 22, 1965, in a nursing home in Dublin. He is buried in a plot in Glasnevin Cemetery, after a Requiem Mass in St. Columba’s Church, Iona Road, Glasnevin.